Essential triathlon training principles


It doesn’t matter what level of athlete you are, beginner, experienced age grouper, or pro; or if you are training for your first sprint race or Ironman title bid; it is how you train that determines how you perform on race day. It doesn’t matter what your goals or expectations are, if you are committing time to train, then it makes sense to get the most out of it; after all, and hour training badly or and hour training well, is still an hour, I know how I would rather spend that hour. And guess what, there are no pro secrets that make it easier, and no magic potions to allow you to perform miracles (well, Pharmstrong might be able to recommend some ‘vitamins’). When so many of us take time out of our family life, work life, social life, etc, we owe it to ourselves and those who we take time away from, to spend that time wisely. Every month the newsstands are populated with the latest triathlon mags promising ‘Your best season yet’ or ‘Our 10 step guide to your new PB’ but there are still large number of people, both experienced and newbie, who completely overlook some very simple principles that can make a whole world of difference.

  • Have a training plan. It doesn’t matter if you pay someone to write one for you, whether you get one out of a book or magazine, or are confident enough to write one yourself, just get something down on paper to follow. The trouble is, if you don’t have a plan to follow, you will quickly lose focus and end up just training randomly. And if your training is random, well then you can expect your results to be random too.
  • Once you have a plan, do exactly what it says on the tin. Make the hard stuff hard, and the easy stuff easy. Sound a bit obvious? Well, lots of people work too hard on the easy stuff, and then don’t work hard enough on interval training. So they end up doing everything down the middle and averaging everything out.
  • Know what intensity to train at. If you are confident using rates of perceived exertion (RPE) that’s fine, but if you use a heart rate monitor, make sure you accurately determine your training zones by either; getting physiological testing at a sports performance lab; or testing yourself with a threshold test such as the ones described here.
  • Train for your race; don’t race in your training. If you race everything, well, that’s not training is it? That is why your plan will generally cycle over a 4 week period where you will do 3 weeks of developing speed, strength, and endurance, then have 1 week to recover and let your body adapt to changes. Using strategically placed races to test your progress is fine, but keep the end goal in sight. You are not going to be hitting your optimal race times halfway through your plan; you’re working to hit them at the end of your plan.
  • Ditch the junk miles. Know why you are training, when, and for how long. Don’t do miles just for the sake of it. It may be nice and sociable to do your bike and run sessions in a group, but unless it is at the intensity you dictate, you are compromising your own training, and those miles become junk. Similarly, if a session is going badly and you feel that there is no point doing it, there is probably no point doing it. Completing a session whilst fatigued, ill, with poor technique, etc, is worse than not training at all.
  • Look after yourself. Get some physio, sports massage, osteopathy, etc; whatever it takes to keep you injury free. You might not need it now, but you will, trust me. Getting yourself to the start line is the hardest part, and that means paying attention to all those little niggles that you keep meaning to get sorted.
    Eat well. Home cooked, balanced meals are all you need. You don’t have to spend loads of money on supplements /protein shakes/etc, to fuel yourself properly. Fresh veg, grilled meats, salad, fruit, will see you through (avoid processed foods and takeaways). Treats and alcohol are perfectly acceptable too, so long as you are sensible and it is in moderation, after all, you’re not a monk or nun. (Unless you are a monk or nun, in which case the alcohol rule probably still applies)
  • Don’t leave it until race day to discover that your race bike needs servicing, your tri suit has a hole where the sun doesn’t shine, or your race flats have a hole in the toe. Whilst you are not going to spend all your training using your expensive race kit, practising with it nearer the day is essential to make sure that everything is in working order and that you are going to be comfortable.
  • Train in conditions that you are liable to experience on race day. If you can’t face training in the heat of a typical British summer, then don’t be surprised if you die on your arse when you race in Abu Dhabi or Kona. And if you get all tearful when faced with your local hill climb, don’t enter Alpe d’Huez Triathlon.
  • Enjoy yourself. Remember that you are doing it because you want to, not because you have to! Take a moment to look at the view, smell the flowers, explore new places and make new friends.


I can’t ‘guarantee your best season yet’, but by following some basic principles, you should at least have a fighting chance.


One thought on “Essential triathlon training principles

  1. Really informative, honest and very useful thoughts and tips Si! A little bit of humour too – love it! Ads

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